Reading and listening to many personal accounts of life during 2020 constantly reminded us of how lucky we are to live in our relatively isolated tropical paradise. While we continue to abide by any recommended Coronovirus safety procedures we have been able to enjoy many wonderful experiences with close friends in our local area. A morning with our friend Murray on one his Daintree Boatman tours is always a delight, especially when the tides are suitable for him to navigate Barratt Creek. He always gives us plenty of time to admire these magnificent Water Gums – Tristaniopsis exiliflora which grow next to the outflow from our wetlands. I don’t know their age but I have loved these trees since I first saw them in 1985.
We have been fortunate in that we had already planned for a year at home in 2020, long before the current global pandemic took hold. Last year we caught up with several building maintenance issues in addition to giving our house garden and orchard some much needed tender loving care. Allowing ourselves time to simply enjoy being here, in addition to the satisfaction we have in our achievement has given us both a renewed love for Wild Wings & Swampy Things. It is a wonderful feeling to admire trees that we have grown from seed which are now providing food and shelter for our local wildlife.
One of the major regular tasks is grass mowing which, although considerably reduced in recent years, remains an energy consuming activity. Earlier this year I had my first experience of walking through a ‘food forest’ harvesting fruit from a variety of trees as we went. Although I knew of the concept I hadn’t experienced the sheer delight and I was inspired to rethink our house garden as well as the orchard. After collecting seed from fruit gifted to me during the abundant tropical summer harvesting period I have grown a collection of several exotic tropical fruit trees to add to the diversity in our orchard as well as creating a more productive garden near the house.
Just looking at that photo of the Marang takes me back to our hot and humid summer days spent sharing a wonderful variety of fruits and making new friends. From exotic fruit to native rainforest – such is the diversity of our lives. We continue our voluntary work with Rainforest Rescue identifying properties which may be suitable for purchase and subsequent protection. We make a thorough assessment of the property’s vegetation on site which gives us the opportunity to explore some interesting forest. It also exercises our memories or in my case, tests my identification skills as I’m not as methodical as Allen! This is followed by a check through a criteria list that Allen has developed, taking in to account the property’s connectivity to National Park, World Heritage or other protected land, it’s likelihood of being settled, the extent of weed incursions etc.
Allen is also spending time collecting seed for the Rainforest Rescue nursery, as production is increasing to meet the demand for trees. We are pleased that there are now a number of large regeneration projects happening in the area – wonderfully positive news!
There is so much to observe in the rainforest, so much beauty on the forest floor, the trunks of the trees and the everchanging shapes and hues of the foliage as light filters through.
We have always known that a walk in the forest is good for our souls – I believe the term is now ‘forest bathing’? Whatever it might be called we hope that residents and visitors to the area will still be able to experience a quiet walk through tropical rainforest in the years ahead.
Travelling slowly down our ‘green tunnel’ driveway this morning, on our weekly expedition to the Mossman Market, I noticed a different shape on the bamboo hand-rail across the culvert at the bottom of the hill. The ‘shape’ rapidly resolved itself into several perching ducks! And there were more on the pond …. so nine Spotted Whistling Ducks came back.
After several days of rain a couple of weeks ago there has been no sign of them in our main wetland system. No-one else has reported any local sightings but there are lots of little ponds hidden away in our gullies so perhaps they just seek out more shelter? Whatever their story, it is always pleasing to see them; gives us a nice warm fuzzy feeling knowing that we’ve provided some habitat for them.
Our Durian trees are flowering and there is a heady, slightly musky aroma around the orchard. A couple of nights ago, with the moon still not quite full, we went for an evening walk to enjoy the flowers and watch the moths and blossom bats flying in to feed on the copious nectar. The night was so still the sound of nectar dripping, onto the carpet of old leaves and spent flowers under the tree, provided a background to the fluttering of wings and an occasional bat squeak.
I still marvel at the sheer number of flowers produced by these trees. They start opening in the afternoon and by morning there is a carpet of flowers on the ground.
Durian flowers beginning to open in the early afternoon
Some flowers now fully open with Blossom bat feeding.
We could smell the heavy, musty scent of the flowering Durian (Durio zibethinus) as we approached our orchard last evening. We only have 4 trees but they are laden with flowers and attracting quite a lot of attention, especially at night.
This photo only captures a portion of the tree with flowers in various stages along the main and smaller lateral branches up to a height of approximately 10 metres. As well as many blossom bats (possibly Northern Blossom Bats but we haven’t a positive ID), there are moths and beetles attending the flowers at night. The flowers open from mid afternoon to late evening with most pollen being shed before midnight and all flower parts excepting the pistil fall to the ground.
We walked under a tree and shone our headlamps upwards to watch the diminutive blossom bats flitting in and out, hardly seeming to stop on the flowers. Blossom bats make a ‘kissing’ sound and when I imitated them I would have them swooping really close so I could feel the air movement from their wings on my head. In the photo above you can see large drops of nectar spilling out – no wonder the bat has buried itself in a flower!
Allen didn’t realize he had caught one in flight until he looked at the photos on the computer screen. We are fascinated by the tiny muscular ‘arms’ – the bats don’t waste any time when they are feeding, a brief moment on a flower and they are on the move again.
All these photos can be enlarged by clicking on them and it is particularly worthwhile in this case to see the detail of the tongue in action.
This rather attractive (as yet unidentified) moth was also taking advantage of the plentiful nectar – and the next morning native bees were landing on the carpet of spent flowers lying under the tree, apparently gathering pollen. So while we look forward,with cautious optimism (having had past disappointments), to a bountiful crop of this glorious King of Fruits many other creatures have benefited from the flowers already.
Reference: “Tropical Tree Fruits for Australia” Queensland Department of Primary Industries 1984
The Durian, (Durio zibethinus) is often referred to as “the King of Tropical Fruit” and with good reason. As well as being extraordinarily delicious to eat, it is bursting with natural vitamins, minerals, protein, unsaturated fats and of course calories! It is without any doubt my absolutely favourite fruit and this is the first year we have had a substantial crop – we have been eating some Durian every day for the past 8 weeks, I have frozen many kilos and given away lots to friends.
I took this fruit to an outside table in order to photograph it and within seconds this little butterfly was attracted to the strong fruit odour. (I think the butterfly belongs to the Mycalesis genus, one of the bush-browns) The Durian fruit, as you can see, has some seriously sharp, stout spines which offer quite a challenge to those trying to access the sweet, rich custardy flesh within. The fruit is a capsule and when ripe it splits into irregular segments containing the seed which is embedded in a rich cream or yellow coloured pulp ……and that’s the yummy bit.
Like many other fruit growers in Far North of Queensland this year, we have a huge crop of Mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) which is known as the “Queen of tropical fruits”, and it is keeping us very busy picking and sorting for sale. Like Durian it is native to the Malaysian rainforests but there the similarities end. The flavour of the white, translucent flesh of Mangosteen is ‘melt in the mouth’ delicate, sweet and refreshing.
The other fruit in the photo is Rambutan (closely related to Lychee) and although we have harvested a few fruit for ourselves and friends most of it is being enjoyed by Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Rainbow Lorikeets. As we have more than enough fruit to eat we don’t mind sharing with them.
And just to finish up – one more photo of the Durian showing its creamy, delicious segments.
We grow Black Persimmon also known as Black Sapote (Diospyros digyana) in our tropical fruit orchard and although we do sell some of our crop there is always plenty to share with the birds. We pick the fruit when it is still hard but those left on the tree become beautifully soft and mushy – perfect tucker for Honeyeaters and Silver-eyes.
As there are not many fruit soft and ripe enough for the birds at the one time there is considerable competition amongst them with the Helmeted Friarbird eagerly pushing the smaller birds out.
Macleay’s Honeyeater, an endemic species to our area, is cautious in its approach, waiting for an opportunity. Although it can be quite bossy around smaller birds it is dominated by the louder and bigger Helmeted Friarbird.
At last, a chance to enjoy a sweet, nutritious feast. Black Persimmon is an excellent source of Vitamin C and also has good amounts of calcium and phosphorus.
It is delicious mixed with yoghurt or made into a ‘smoothie’ but the birds seem happy to eat it unadulterated.
Nothing left of this fruit as this Yellow-spotted Honeyeater (I’m not entirely confident about ID) has just discovered but they’ll be more. The crop extends over a couple of months so all the fruit lovers, ourselves included, will be well fed.
Now that our major restoration projects are complete we are taking more time to simply enjoy the privilege of living in such a beautiful, peaceful and endlessly interesting area.
While there are always a few maintenance tasks the work is not onerous and we can take time out to enjoy our walking tracks as well as to sit and simply look around.
It is immensely rewarding to observe the growth in the vegetation, watch trees mature and to delight in the variety and number of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects both residing on and visiting the property.